The Chargers hopes of winning the AFC West are clearly on life support following Sunday’s setback to the Broncos, a 30-23 loss in Denver.
Peyton Manning threw for 270 yards and three touchdowns in the 7-point win.
Manning finished with 25-of-42 efficiency and an interception returned for a score by Eric Weddle for the Broncos (7-3), who have won five consecutive outings, and have swept the Bolts.
Brandon Stokley totaled four receptions for 55 yards and one touchdown, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker added TD catches, and Willis McGahee ended with 55 yards on seven carries.
Philip Rivers went 24-of-40 for 258 yards, two TDs to Danario Alexander and as many interceptions for the Chargers (4-6), who slid to their fifth defeat in their last six.
Alexander ended up with 96 yards on seven receptions, Malcom Floyd added four grabs for 67 yards to counteract a 47-yard, 15-carry performance from Ryan Mathews.
Matt Prater split the uprights from 32 yards away — his third field goal of the contest — with 4:14 left in regulation to give Denver a 30-16 edge, but San Diego narrowed its gap with 1:24 on the clock.
Alexander barely crossed the plane of the goal line before losing the ball while falling into the end zone. A lengthy review upheld the call on the field, which resulted in a 21-yard touchdown, despite replay indicating a knee might have been down before the ball crossed the plane.
The Broncos recovered the onside kick but went three-and-out. The Chargers gained possession at their own 13-yard line with 23 ticks left, but had no timeouts remaining. Rivers was sacked on the final play, which followed a short completion.
Manning encountered bad luck on Denver’s second possession of the contest, as he threw right into the hands of Weddle, who ran 23 yards to the end zone.
Prater missed from 55 yards out on the following series, but Manning atoned for his earlier mistake with two minutes played in the second quarter, connecting with Thomas from 13 yards away to even the score.
Originally ruled out of bounds, the hosts successfully challenged the call for a 7-7 game.
The Chargers now have to basically win out and hope they can get some help to make the postseason.
Wesley Woodyard then picked off Rivers and returned to the San Diego 8-yard line, and Prater hit from 19 yards away.
On the first play after the two-minute warning, Nate Irving blocked a Mike Scifres punt, and the hosts were set up on their foes’ 31-yard line. On the next down, Manning hit Stokley in the end zone to make it 17-7.
After San Diego’s first drive of the second half proved fruitless, a punt backed the Broncos within the shadow of their goal line.
Shaun Phillips sacked Manning for a safety, but Rivers was sacked, lost the football and the hosts recovered on the Chargers’ 25. Decker hauled in a 20-yard Manning heave and it was 24-9 Denver.
Rivers responded on the next series, hitting Alexander for an 8-yard score and cutting his team’s deficit to eight.
Prater capped a Broncos’ 67-yard, 10-play drive with a 30-yard field goal and 27-16 score with 10:43 remaining.